RTE Settles Libel Lawsuit, Issues Clarification

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Irish public broadcaster RTE has issued a clarification in its libel settlement with a County Cork, Ireland woman named Mary Philomena Porter, the Irish Times reported.

Porter, a “nursing home owner,” sued over RTE’s Prime Time Investigates Dec. 7, 2009 story on “social welfare fraud.”  According to the Irish Times, “No details of the settlement were disclosed in court, but it was confirmed that RTE had agreed to pay Ms Porter’s full costs.”

RTE’s clarification over the matter, sent to iMediaEthics by RTE’s Carolyn Fisher reads:

“In its Prime Time Investigates programme of 7 December 2009 RTÉ addressed the important issue of Social Welfare Fraud – a matter of significant public interest. For purposes of explanation of a serious and substantial fraud committed by another person, the programme referred to Mary Philomena Porter. RTÉ is happy to state that it did not suggest nor does it suggest that Mary Philomena Porter was a participant in or guilty of that fraud or any fraud and RTÉ is happy to acknowledge her good reputation in her community.”

The Irish Independent noted that the clarification isn’t labeled “an apology.”

iMediaEthics wrote to RTE asking when Porter filed her lawsuit, what the settlement terms were, if RTE paid Porter, for confirmation RTE is paying Porter’s costs, if the clarification was aired or published, and if RTE will amend any 2009 reporting on Porter because of the case.

RTE’s Fisher told iMediaEthics “We have no further comment to make on the case.”

iMediaEthics has written numerous times over the past year about RTE’s very high profile libel lawsuit and settlement for another Prime Time Investigates program.

In October 2011, RTE apologized to Irish Catholic priest Father Kevin Reynolds after wrongly accusing him in its May program “Mission to Prey” of raping and impregnating a minor-aged girl. The case garnered a great deal of attention not only because of the severity of the allegations, which temporarily led to Reynolds’ being “removed as the parish priest,” but also because Reynolds adamantly denied the allegations in a pre-publication interview, by lawyers, and through the declined offer to take a paternity test.

RTE still aired the program and its libel of the priest, which led to RTE paying Reynolds a settlement, apologizing at least twice and the ending of the investigative show that aired the allegations. Plus, four different investigations were conducted into the inaccurate reporting, the Irish Broadcasting Authority fined RTE, RTE announced “new journalism guidelines,” and at least three RTE staff or executives resigned.

RTE’s reporting on two other men in the same program was questioned as well, as we wrote. The family of deceased Brother Gerard Dillon called for a retraction or proof of RTE’s claims of child abuse.  And, while former Archbishop Richard Burke owned up to having a relationship with a girl who RTE reported he sexually abused as a minor, he said RTE libeled him because she was 21 and “the relationship was consensual.”

The Irish Broadcasting Authority also ruled against RTE earlier this year for airing what turned out to be a fake tweet during its presidential debate, as we wrote in March. Former presidential candidate Sean Gallagher complained about RTE’s reporting on the tweet and said it lost him the election.

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RTE Settles Libel Lawsuit over 2009 Story, Issues Clarification that Woman Not ‘participant in or guilty of that fraud’

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